Sara Sorby tells a frightening story to national TV audience
Miracles do happen! Sara Sorby is convinced of it.
Looking back on the most frightening experience of her life, Sara says it was a series of miracles that kept her and son Ben safe.
On Monday, February 9, Sara was driving 19-month-old Ben to a doctor’s appointment at Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare in St. Paul when her car caught fire.
She was driving on Interstate 94, near the Snelling Avenue exit, when the accelerator pedal of her car seemed to be skipping and hopping.
Sorby called her father, Greg Baufield, in Plymouth, who at that time was caring for her two sons, Jack, 6, and Luke, 3½. She told him what was happening and he advised her to pull off the freeway. She was in the left lane, and she watched the speedometer drop as she coasted the vehicle across the highway into the right lane. She attempted to brake, but the brakes didn’t work and the car lost power. She shifted the transmission into park, and then the car started to fill up with smoke.
Sara jumped out of the vehicle and grabbed her child out of his car seat.
“I was not in a panic yet,” Sorby told the Advance-Press editor during an interview Thursday. “I smelled smoke but I didn’t see fire.”
Sara’s father, who was still on the phone, advised her that he was on his way to meet them. Sara put down her phone. She placed her little boy on the grass at the side of the road and went back to her vehicle to retrieve her purse and her son’s medical records, and she set them next to the vehicle. “I wasn’t thinking that my car was on fire,” she said.
Her car was smoking, but no one was stopping. “I was in shock. Time was at a standstill. I just stood there with my child in my arms. I have no idea how many cars passed by,” said Sara. “Then I heard a voice yelling, ‘Maam, are you okay?’ I turned to look at him. He looked panicked.” The man told Sara that she needed to move away from her vehicle because it was engulfed in thick smoke — a smoke that no one should breathe. Sara was hysterical and made a move to retrieve her purse and her son’s medical records. “I started to get them and he held out his hand firmly and said, ‘No, you have to wait here,’” Sara recalled. He put on a respirator and disappeared into the smoke and came back with the items.
As the man drove Sara and her son to safety, the car burst into flames. He took Sara and her son to a nearby gas station. And, then he was gone.
“I didn’t get his name to thank him,” said Sara. She felt terrible about that. Determined to find the man, she called WCCO TV that reported the incident on the 5 o’clock news that Monday evening. “I wasn’t thinking at all about a news story,” Sara recalled. “I just wanted to get the name of the man.”
Sara’s father arrived and took Sara and Ben home with him.
Early Tuesday, February 10, WCCO TV’s Bill Hudson called Sara. He said the people in the newsroom had wondered whose vehicle burned on the highway. They were able to track down the man who rescued the Sorbys.
Later, when she returned to consult with officers and insurance representative and saw the family vehicle and her children’s car seats, she cried.
“It took me a time to get over it,” Sara said. Emotions took over when she realized how quickly everything happened, and what might have happened if she hadn’t encountered those miracles.
“We are fine,” she said, “and that’s what’s most important.”
A twist of events
Sara and her sons were safe and comfortable in her parents’ home and she planned to return home to Springfield later in the week.
However, an exciting turn of events changed plans.
Producers of the Ellen DeGeneres national talk-variety show, called and wanted to hear her story. “I thought it was a joke. I wondered how they got the story,” Sara said. She went to her computer and began doing research. The connection is that WCCO is one of a series of CBS stations, and the story was picked up by the major station.
By late Thursday, Sara was invited to Los Angeles to tell her story on national television.
Husband Justin drove to Plymouth to join his family and make plans for the trip to Los Angeles.
“We were sworn to secrecy,” said Sara. “I couldn’t tell anyone other than family.” That was difficult.
At 8:20 am. Monday, February 16, Sara and Justin and son Ben flew out of Minneapolis - St. Paul International Airport, and, after a layover at Dallas-Fort Worth, flew into LA International Airport late that afternoon.
“It was really fun. We were treated like celebrities. I would never have thought that this could happen to us,” Sara said. A chauffeured vehicle transported them to their hotel and picked them up early Tuesday and transported them to the television studio where the filming took place. She had her makeup and hairdo professionally done. That was a nice treat.
“I was really, really nervous, as the show was taped,” she said.
Sara told her story to Ellen DeGeneres and to television viewers across the nation, and then she had the opportunity to see Joseph Stampley who assisted her and son Ben on the freeway. DeGeneres called the man to the set. Sara was presented a check for $10,000; and Stampley received a check for $15,000 from Shutterfly. For more on this story see this week's Springfield Advance-Press